Think your pooch is in need of a little divine intervention? Since 1930, Olvera Street has hosted the Blessing of the Animals on the Saturday before Easter. Following a procession led by a flower-laden cow, Cardinal Roger Mahony blessed all animals in attendance. There was an exciting charro equestrian show, pony rides for children, and a petting zoo with llamas, sheep, cows, and more.
In case you missed it last weekend, you can read all about this annual tradition—with roots dating back to the fourth century—in Leo Politi’s Caldecott Honor-winning children’s book, Juanita, recently reissued by Getty Publications. Originally published in 1948, the story follows young Juanita and her family through birthday and Easter celebrations on Olvera Street, where her family runs a puesto, or small shop. She receives a dove for her birthday and takes her new pet to the blessing ceremony, along with the other children in the neighborhood, who bring birds, lambs, turtles, cats, rabbits, cows, and even a monkey.
Leo Politi (1908–1996) wrote and illustrated dozens of children’s books, many of which are set in the Latino and other ethnic communities of Southern California. In October 2009, Getty Publications reissued four of his most popular titles, including the Caldecott Medal-winning Song of the Swallows (1948), Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street (1946), and Juanita (1948), each of which received a Caldecott Honor; and Emmet (1971).
At a time when most children’s picture books were set in generic towns or cities, Politi’s books were set in real neighborhoods, and usually featured a specific ethnic community. Before multiculturalism was the buzzword that it is now, Politi portrayed characters with different backgrounds and sprinkled foreign-language words and phrases throughout his texts.
The next time you’re on Olvera Street—for the Blessing of Animals or just a taco—you can see Politi’s Juanita on a larger scale. His mural The Blessing of the Animals features human and animal characters from the book, including birds, lambs, turtles, cats, rabbits—and, of course, Juanita with her pet dove.
A section of Elysian Park is designated as a picnic area called “Montecillo de Leo Politi” and Leo Politi square is located at the corner of Sunset and Echo Park Avenues.
When I was in elementary school in Culver City (mid-50s), my mother, Vivian Fier, was the head of the PTA and each year there was a book fair. I remember her picking up Leo Politi and bringing him to our house and then El Marino Elementary School (a short walk down the block). I was in awe that I had met an author of books. I’ve been in awe ever since, evening getting two published myself.
I recently aquired a copy of the Politi Lithograph “Bunker Hill” Personalized “To my friend Vivian” I wonder if this may have been your mother?
When I was a little girl in the early eighties, I used to dance in a Mexican folklorico group at Olvera street three days a week. One day after a show i was sitting on a wall people watching. I think I had just ate a churro with some hot chocolate, when Mr. Politi walked up and asked me if I could sit still while he drew me. He sketched quickly while I sat nervously, not knowing if I should smile or if i was fidgeting too much. He finished, asked me my name, signed it and handed it to me. He was such a nice man. My mother had it framed right away, and I will always treasure it.